The Crimson and the Black (Hidden Empire Book 2)
Beware of dragons…
Being a rich, beautiful vampire in Victorian England isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it can get lonely, not to mention boring. So when Countess Fyodora Korelev is asked to help find a group of kidnapped selkie girls, she jumps at the chance … only to get the shock of her undead life when a huge, gorgeous Scottish dragon shifter shows up and announces that she’s his fated mate.
Alone for centuries, dragon shifter Callum Brown is in a foul mood as he’s tracking down the Sassenachs who stole his selkie niece. But when he runs into a stunning vampiress who sets his blood on fire, he knows he has to claim her—even though she refuses to admit she’s his mate. Callum must now use all of his skills to seduce his stubborn, beautiful countess. But Fyodora isn’t about to make that easy…
- Paranormal Romance, Historical Romance
- Word Count: 90,000
- Heat Level: 4
- Published By: Belaurient Press
Books in the Hidden Empire series:
Novellas and Short Stories in the Hidden Empire series:
Rated Five Stars. “I can’t tell you how happy I was to see the author had turned this into a series.“
The hair at the nape of Fyodora’s neck rose and she felt a presence behind her that was most definitely not Richardson. A comment about rudeness at the ready, she spun and looked into a wide expanse of starched shirtfront. She continued looking up. And up. Bozhe moi. I didn’t know they had giants in London.
The man who stood before her made the guard at the door look positively diminutive. His face was bluffly handsome with a strong nose and chin, a sensual mouth, and deep-set mahogany eyes that were a few shades lighter than his curly brown hair. But it wasn’t his face or height that had sent a shock running through her body.
It was his scent. Rich, dark, with notes of musk and magic, it sent an unexpectedly powerful rush of desire surging through her. She could feel her nipples hardening under her bodice and the muscles between her thighs throbbed greedily, wanting to clamp down on a lovely hard cock. Even her palms itched with the need to climb the tall, handsome stranger like a tree and feast on those firm, full lips, then drag him off to the nearest bed and ravish him until they were both panting and spent.
To complicate matters, the desire was matched by a wild need to taste his blood. Her fangs positively ached to slide out and pierce that fair, strong skin, let the hot crimson liquid roll over her tongue and down her throat.
Clenching her jaws together, she belatedly recognized another note in his scent. He was Folk, a shifter of some sort, but she couldn’t recognize his beast. “What are you?”
He seemed as shocked as she was, eyes widening as he stared at her. A new note entered his scent—desire, hot and utterly masculine. “I could ask the same of ye, madam.”
His burr was distinct from the drawling London accent. “You’re a Scot.”
“Aye. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all.” She quite liked the Scots—they were a determined people who had survived invasion after invasion over the centuries and still managed to thrive both in their native land and abroad. Any other time, she would have added a purr to her voice and suggested that they find somewhere private to continue their discussion.
But tonight she was there on ministry business and didn’t have time for a seduction, damn it all. “I’m afraid I must rejoin my companion. If you’ll excuse me?”
Before she could leave his hand shot out and closed lightly around her lower arm, halting her without restraining her. “Might I have the honor of a dance first?”
The heat from his hand felt like a brand against her skin, and she could hear the hunger under his polite words. Richardson was still trapped in the crowd around the bar and looked to be there for some time. Surely a single dance with this handsome shifter wouldn’t hurt.
Especially as he turned her very insides to liquid. “All right,” she murmured, taking his hand and allowing him to guide her onto the tiny dance floor. The string quartet began a waltz and she glided into the familiar steps of the dance. “Might I know your name, sir?”
“Callum Brown. And yours?”
“Countess Fyodora Julianova Korelev.”
He was still staring at her. “I didn’t expect to see someone of your type here.”
She couldn’t resist a smile. “Are you referring to my nationality, my nobility, or my nature?”
“All three, to be frank. Your accent says you’re Ukrainian, at least originally.”
That pleased her. Most Europeans who heard her speak assumed that she was Russian. “You have an excellent ear.”
He made a soft rumbling sound at that, glancing around the room. “As for nobles, I suspect the occasional one shows up here when they’re in the mood to slum. But I’ve never seen a countess before.”
“We’re more common on the Continent than we are in England.” She took in a breath, savoring his scent as he spun her expertly. “What about vampires?”
His brows lowered at that. “I should have expected one here, now that I think of it. All those gamblers with their heated blood. It must smell irresistible to ye.”
Not nearly as irresistible as you do. “It has its appeal. I must admit, I didn’t expect to run into a Lowlander here.”
He smiled. “Ye ken I’m a Lowlander?”
“You’re not the only one with an excellent ear, Mr. Brown.” She rolled the R in his last name deliberately. “Your accent is distinct from the Highlands accent.”
“No’ many Sassenachs can hear the difference.”
Sassenach—the Gaelic term for the Saxons. “Since I’m not a Saxon, that would explain much,” she said, dimpling. “Besides, vampiric hearing is highly sensitive.” She allowed the rhythm of the dance to carry her scandalously close to him. “I can hear your heart beat, the creak of your lungs as you inhale, and the slight click your eyelids make when you blink. We won’t discuss the volcanic rumbling coming from your belly, but I would suggest you eat fairly soon.”
He guided her along silently for a measure or two, close enough for her to feel the heat from his body. “D’ye ken what I am, then?” he murmured.
She tried again, but it eluded her. “I can tell that you’re a shifter, but I don’t recognize your beast. It’s really rather annoying. I know it’s not equine, feline, or ursine, although there is the faintest hint of something with wings.”
Those thickly lashed brown eyes now lit with amusement, and she had to will herself not to go up on tiptoe and kiss him. “What do ye think I am?”
She mentally ran through her admittedly limited knowledge of shifters. “You don’t smell like any bird shifters I’ve met, and you’re far too large to be a bat.”
He threw his head back and laughed, a full-bodied, joyous sound that caused other dancers to stare at them. “That I am, my lady. But you’re edging towards the truth of it, at least in the wing shape.”
His laughter annoyed her a bit. “I can’t think of a creature that has wings like those of a bat. Unless you mean a flying fox.”
“I’m not a flying fox. Nor am I a bird, or a bee, or even a flying fish.” His voice lowered until only a vampire could have heard it under the music. “Try again.”
Damn him for purring at her like that. Doing her best to ignore the desire moving through her veins like molten gold, she forced herself to think. A shifter’s human size and shape didn’t always reflect their beast, but there was a marked tendency for larger shifters to transform into larger animals. Whatever this Callum Brown could turn into, she imagined it was enormous indeed. But there are no large birds with membranous wings, are there? In fact, the only thing that even comes close is—
She stumbled as she realized what he was. He caught her instantly, carrying her along until she’d regained her balance. “You worked it out, then?”
She bit her lip, desire tempered now with astonishment. “I thought your kind were extinct.”
The amusement vanished from his eyes, and he shook his head soberly. “Hunted almost to extinction, aye, but some survived. In my case, no one ever expected to look for a dragon in Scotland.”
After a life as long as hers, she didn’t think that anything could surprise her anymore. Clearly, she had been wrong. “What in the world are you doing in London?”
The muscles along his jaw tightened. “I’m looking for someone close to me, a young selkie lass. She’s been kidnapped.”
Callum was prowling through one of the gaming rooms when the scent of his mate cut like a blade across the stink of alcohol and clustered, excited humans. His dragon roused, rumbling in excitement.
She’s here. I dinna ken how, but she’s here. Underneath the fruit and spice notes was something primal, the same essence that had drawn him so strongly earlier that day. The female who would complete him, who would understand his aching loneliness and replace it with love.
He tracked the scent, muttering apologies as he edged impatiently through the crowd. It led him to a woman in elegant sapphire blue satin, her dark hair coiled up and held with sparkling clips and a ridiculous feather, more jewels twinkling around her slim throat and dangling from her ears. He stood there more a moment, staring at her. His f’anwylyd had been human, but now that he was closer he could smell that the beautiful woman standing with her back to him was a vampiress.
I suppose the gods did give me a new mate, after all. He didn’t care about her race. All that mattered was that she was the other half of his soul. Every fiber of his being screamed at him to scoop her up and fly home as fast as his wings would beat.
Except you can’t, you clot. You’re here to find Ned Penhaligon. His original plan had been to locate Penhaligon and a quiet spot upstairs, then slowly start breaking the bawbag’s bones until he admitted where Gara and the other selkies were being held.
Now his mind and body had turned to incandescent flame by the vampiress’s scent. Slowly he came up behind her. The diamonds in her hair clips sparkled in the gaslight, and he could see the finest down that covered the nape of her neck, running in a faint line down her spine. He wanted to lean down and kiss it, then run his lips over the slopes of her exposed shoulders, down to the humid spot under her delicate ear where her scent would be true.
And then she turned, and he had to swallow a groan of pure need. She was so beautiful it hurt his heart. Her face was that of a wicked angel, with creamy velvet skin and wide, intelligent eyes the shade of fine whisky. Her lips were ripe and cherry red, and he burned to kiss them, drink down her sweetness.
He saw her react to him, eyes widening even more in surprise and desire. He didn’t know why the gods had seen fit to mate him to this lovely vampiress but it wasn’t up to him to decide such things, only to be grateful that he had been given such a gift.
Persuading her onto the laughably tiny dance floor gave him the chance to hold her as close as polite society permitted and revel in the joy of finding her. Fyodora Julianova Korelev. The words ran through his mind like a poem.
Her shock when she realized his true nature was amusing, until she asked what he was doing in London. The cold reality of the situation returned, pushing away the pleasure of having Fyodora in his arms.
When he explained that he was looking for Gara, Fyodora’s gaze sharpened. “How long has she been missing?”
“This past week. She’s not the type to wander or go off with strangers, particularly humans.” The string quartet paused, then started up another waltz. As Fyodora showed no interest in leaving, he continued dancing with her. “I was able to track her to an inn twenty miles from our village. That got me the name of the human who’d taken them—Ned Penhaligon. Her scent vanished, but I tracked Penhaligon to Aberdeen, then down to London.” He allowed himself a brief, bleak grin. “His maid told me he’s coming here tonight. I’m going to find out where Gara is if I have to wring it out of his body with my own hands.”
Fyodora’s smile was bright and sharp. “Would you like some help?”
Her offer was surprising. Normally he wouldn’t want his mate anywhere near a scrap but having a vampiress at his back wasn’t a bad thing. “Aye, I would.”
She nodded. “Is he here yet?”
He glanced around the room. “Not yet. I was going to wait near the foyer when I found ye.”
That pulsing, aching need for her rose up again, flooding through him. He wanted to bend down until he could kiss those pretty cherry lips, cup her tiny face in his hands and feel the softness of her skin. But if he did that, he wouldn’t be able to stop until he had her naked and under him, claiming her the way his dragon craved to do. There will be time for all that later. Focus on Penhaligon now.
He let her go and stepped back, feeling a physical pain as the space between them grew. “Much as I’m enjoying this, I think we should return to the foyer.”
She seemed disappointed but nodded. “I suspect that’s for the best. My escort is probably looking for me.”
His dragon roared at the thought of another male with her. “Escort?”
She shook her head, jewelry sparkling in the gaslight. “A friend, nothing more. His attentions are occupied elsewhere, I can assure you.” She slipped her arm through his, and he wanted to groan at the press of her flesh against his. “Let us promenade, Mr. Brown, and see if we can find this scoundrel.”